Author

Charles Driscoll

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Finding meaning in a meaningless job

I have heard many people tell me how much they hate their job or how they have a difficult time finding meaning in their work. The idea of spending most of our “working” hours in jobs that intrinsically have deeper meaning and purpose is an inspiring idea. Yet most of us will spend at least a share of our life in seemingly meaningless jobs. But are they truly meaningless if they do not engage our deeper emotions or humanitarian visions? Have we failed to live up to our potential as a human being? Or is there something of value still to be found?

a purpose in enablement

When I realized the primary (or maybe only) reason I was keeping the job I had was for a paycheck, a red flag was raised. I found no passion in my work, no healthy challenge. Many of my friends in large cities seem to wrestle with this. They achieve a career goal of position or salary, then find their free time or quality of life to be almost non-existent. This is not a good place to remain in life but it could be an important step in enabling other goals. For example, provides enough money for hobbies outside of working hours, pays your rent and feeds your family.  Maybe this salary can enable the NEXT STEP in life. Starting your own business, trying to write and publish a book, taking an extended travel around the world or finding other interesting ways to give back to the world around you?

A Meaning in change

Maybe your 40hr workweek is spent doing a job that you find intrinsic meaning in. If you are one of these people that have the opportunity to quit your “day job” and work in something that you are passionate about and it provides enough money to feed yourself and put a roof over your head, better yet. As a musician and writer, I am very fortunate to finally be focusing on my creative pursuits. This moment didn’t arrive without many years (appx 10) of working on some business projects I had very little passion for.

frozen identity

There can be a real struggle to leave our jobs behind. Frequently, even if we hate our work, our identity is tied closely to the position we hold or the money we make that even the thought of quitting would totally undermine our image of ourselves. (a professional or economic success for example) Learning how to divorce who we are from what we do can be a painful, yet worthwhile practice. (click HERE for a previous article I published about this topic)

a question of value

It all comes down to what we value. Money is very valuable if we have little to none of it. If there is a sufficient amount of money to cover basic living expenses, then our emotional well being, stress, and self-development start rising in value.  Maybe you are a person who really likes brand name clothes or more expensive cars and furniture. If so, you will likely need to sacrifice more of your time, effort and potential well being to have them.  (Sacrifice is a very uncommon path in a world where we are accustomed getting what we want NOW!) There is nothing wrong with appreciating quality possessions. As long as you are aware where these things belong within your value system.

Well done

Sometimes I overlook the value simply in doing something well. Especially when doing menial tasks. When I think about it a little deeper I have new thoughts…Why would I want to be the type of person that does work less than my potential? The Hebrews had some wisdom recorded in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”

Final steps

We won’t always enjoy what we do. But with a little awareness and intention, seemingly meaningless jobs can provide purpose and potential for goals not yet grasped. I hope after reading this article you may see the 5 steps between where you are and where your goal is may very well contain a “meaningless” job. Maybe you feel like you are almost at the peak of a mountain. You have been climbing hard for quite some time. Now you feel the fear of uncertainty, what lies on the other side? Some parts of the unknown can only be discovered by “going” (read MORE). Fear not, step forward.

…the unsettled settler

 

 

 

 

 

My friend in the sex industry (lessons in love)

So, I was having dinner with my friend in the sex industry the other night….

Take a moment, try to be fully honest with yourself. What judgments or emotions does this sentence create in you? Would it be possible for you to say “my friend in the sex industry”? Or are you “unreachable”, never allowing a situation like this to take place? I’ll tell you how I found myself in this exact situation during one of my travels.

Meeting Nan

I have been attempting to write this article for a couple months now. How can I speak openly about something that is often so hidden and so judged that even just the mention of it can cause offense? During my recent time in SE Asia I visited some friends I have known for many years.I was welcomed to stay with them in an apartment shared with a few others and was introduced to a woman I”ll call “Nan”. I was excited to spend some time with my old friend and meet some new ones.We (My friend, Nan, another woman, and myself) spent a day together being tourists in a beautiful coastal region. We had a wonderful dinner together talking about life, family, and hopes for the future.

During our ride back home my friend mentioned to me under his breath that “Nan” was working as a “bar-girl”. (Click for a link to a definition) He mentioned that this was of course not approved of in society and that Nan was living separately from her children so they would not learn of their mothers’ shameful occupation. This same woman, who was nervous meeting and talking with new people, who had dreams for her children’s future, who wanted to enjoy an afternoon with friends… was working directly in the sex industry.

how/why?

I immediately found my judgment sensors kicking in.

“She should stop living in this disrespectful way!” “She is wrong. Why would she do that – HOW could she do that?” And then without consciously thinking about it, I could feel myself distancing myself… my emotions, my mind, my talk. At this moment, I mostly wanted to stop speaking. Simply being another friend to this woman now felt uncomfortable. All the talk of interests, hopes, dreams, and stories that I felt comfortable sharing before somehow started to fade into non-discussable/non-engaging territory.

I had already listened to Nan share about her children, their ages, their interests and how much she misses them. I could see a sadness in her eyes. She made choices that many parents often make; desperate sacrifice for the sake of children. In the following weeks, I had a chance to speak more directly with Nan about her future, her family, and her own personal dreams. I heard a story that was familiar to many single mothers. A failed marriage, lack of employment and support from family and friends. With the cost of school fees, children’s clothes, food, and rent exceeding what Nan was able to earn in her previous job she took the difficult decision to earn money for her family by working in the sex industry.

Lessons of love or morality?

Mostly, I found myself heartbroken and challenged by the story told. I was heartbroken because I saw a woman with a gentle and quiet personality taking an occupation that not only went against her personality but also was eroding her self-worth and view of herself. Trapped in a cycle of hiding from her family in shame. I was challenged because my stereotypes of the type of person who is a sex worker were no longer fitting the mold.  I wanted to teach a lesson of escape, I wanted to reach out. But with what? A lesson of love or morality? How could I suppose to walk in shoes that were in no way my own?

Freedom & dreams

I don’t claim to have all the answers for how to bring goodness to what looks like a difficult and seemingly helpless situation. But as I considered my feelings of empathy I discovered that my own personal goals and dreams certainly have a way of re-humanizing me on days when I feel I have become just another cog in the capitalist machine. Nan and I began to have conversations about dreams and goals. At first, her responses were about dreams she had for her children, but in time we were able to start to speak about her own dreams and interest. One of them being painting and drawing. We also started talking about freedom. What other potential ways she could become free of this guilt and shame of her current occupation and what possibilities she had for sustainable work in the future.

Many religions attempt to offer explanations and solutions to injustices like this. I particularly like this verse from 2nd Corinthians 5:17 “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” This newness of life is something that people all over the world are trying to find.  Who will find it? And what does the “new life” look like? A common theme of suffering. An uncommon destination of freedom.

final thoughts

I wrote this article not to explain some narrow path or view of how you should behave in or judge a situation like this. But to raise awareness about how often we as a society are judgemental or indifferent to challenges so many women face on a daily basis around the world. Making a choice between self-sacrifice or sacrifice of family. I hope to keep my eyes open wider than before and my heart, less judgemental. I will face a “reality check”. Am I doing what I can in good conscience to love each person I meet fully? Or do I prefer the feeling of my familiar judgments and the safety of my disengaged comfort zone?

*NOTE

I recently learned that Nan was able to find a well-paying job in a restaurant and has started creating T-shirt artwork which can supplement her salary.  These positive changes in Nan’s life are allowing some happiness and light to re-enter her life.

 

 

 

 

 

I want a divorce. The process of separating who I am, from what I do

I want a divorce…

I know it’s not the popular thing to do. Still, I’m tired of living with this marriage between my occupation/accomplishment (what I do) and how I see myself. (who I am).  What is the difference between these two? And what effect does separating them have on my choices and my feelings each day?

Origins.

In my past years, I can see where my legitimate and healthy desire to grow, challenge myself and improve started becoming something that only controlled me but also began defining me. During this failed marriage, each time my “less developed and unaccomplished self” ran into a harsh word from a girlfriend, disinterest, disapproval or rejection from a friend or parent the “performance” based value system became more established. I believed that in order to be worthy of love or acceptance, the things I did needed to be changed.

Lust for love
At a young age, I learned that
improved/exceptional actions=approved/acceptable person.
If my performance did not meet expectations in my relationships or work life my acceptance and value as a human being would diminish. Previously during childhood, I saw a good day as one where I ate a big bowl of cereal for breakfast, went out into the warm summer sun with my friends and enjoyed time together. Content in my existence. Healthy and fed with friends and a roof over my head.
changes
By the time I reached adulthood I realized so many of my days were seen and felt as “bad days” because of someone’s disappointment or dissatisfaction with my business. Other times it was a former girlfriends’ accusation of my failure to live up to her expectations of a boyfriend. Or sometimes my own self-judgment of not reaching my own goals fast enough, or not maintaining goals and ideals set by the society around me.  (who I am vs. what I do) For example the expectation that a “real job” is one that involved staying in one place and manufacturing something. A job where you play music for a living or write and travel. These are not considered legitimate occupations to many people in my hometown. Any of this sound familiar? Tell me I’m not the only one who has thought this way and made these judgments? The consequence of all these years of failing to meet expectation left me feeling small, unworthy as an outsider and incapable of fitting in. A slow yet steady progression towards being a slave of others expectations of myself which became my expectations of myself.
awkward separation
In an effort to “file for divorce” I started stepping away from my businesses in a more direct way 6-8 months ago. I became isolated from my prior success. The confidence in my skills as a businessman could no longer be relied upon to prop up my insecure and uncertain self. When all was stripped back, I was left vulnerable to each and every word and judgment around me. No longer safe inside the cocoon of my accomplishments.  I was still forced to confront questions of “what do you do for a job and what are your plans”. Previously I could confidently reply, “I’m running a few businesses, a real estate investment company, an I.T. business, a recording studio” I could also feel comfortable and justified in my own mind by thinking of future projects and goals I intended to take on and be a shining success in. Now I was left with a shadow of the past and an unclear path for the future. Was this enough to still be “ok”? Was this enough to have “good days”?
future life of freedom
I was left with only myself. And who I am. These questions of how I define and value myself hit hard. Almost all people have the ability to “survive” life. But are these people living it well? Living abundantly? Living lovingly with a forgiving and helpful heart? Walking fearless in spite of all the horrors that life may throw at us? Cancer, death, abuse, infidelity and injustice.
I realized that the ground I previously worshiped as my stability was ground that many other feet had walked on, spit on and disrespected. Why should I keep using this filthy ground as a mirror to reflect and judge my own value?
I would prefer to base my identity and value in who I am, not this shifty ground of actions and accomplishment. In the past months of travel, I have met many others on a similar path.These individuals are quitting jobs, leaving relationships and seeking an understanding of themselves not rooted in their accomplishment or meeting expectations.
moving forward

I cannot answer every question as to how to direct your identity and value to a healthy source. Although my realization of this marriage and the separation that has followed has been very difficult. Living with the (what I do defines me) mindset for the rest of my life would be far more difficult. I have a clearer mind about the importance of this separation and also a faith that gives added clarity in regards to my value and my identity. I hope that you will take time consider what you spend most of your time focused on? What you do, or who you are becoming.

Going going gone. Destination unknown.

“He went out, not knowing where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8

going

We are all going somewhere. Even those who chose to stay put geographically. This old text from the book of Hebrews inspired me in a new way today. It resonates deeply with a “searching” that many of us find ourselves in while taking steps of “faith” in our lives.  There is NOT ONLY a spiritual implication to this text, but also a inerhently human one.

Going

Sometimes the choices we make do not direct us TOWARDS a specific identifiable end. They are only choices AWAY from something we are already familiar with. For example, I remember choosing to leave my family farm when I was 19 years old to pursue an education in sound engineering. This meant I had to leave the farm and apply myself to studying. In this choice I did not know where I was going, only THAT I WAS GOING. (I wound up studying in IRELAND) The choice to leave the familiar is challenging.I needed to place some level of trust in my own ability to make a choice. (for many including myself) A trust in a higher power also, to lead me safely to my final destination. (figuratively, and literally)

Gone

This text may not contain the destination details for this Unsettled Settler. But it clearly shows that this individual felt so strongly about GOING that HE WENT. As I read this, I’m encouraged to put away my fear about taking steps towards something not yet totally defined. There are many times where I made choices and started 2nd guessing myself. I often find myself caught between anxiety or not caring anymore. This third option of accepting an unknown destination appears to have the best outcome.

Maybe it’s the choice to end a relationship does not build you up or that is harming you? Or a choice to physically change locations and live a new life somewhere else? Maybe it’s the choice to pursue a new passion or art? Or finding a way to “reset” an existing relationship? Whatever you mean to do, wherever you believe you should go. The most important part is to “go out” and take faith that many unsettled settlers before you have started their journey unsure of where they were going.

 

 

 

Learning to shut up! My experience at Dipabhavan, 6 day silent meditation retreat.

Recently I decided to test my limits in a new way by spending time at Dipabhavan for a silent meditation retreat. I figured this would be a great way to clear and calm my mind after some hectic years in the states managing multiple business ventures. Also, I figured sitting in quiet for awhile would force me to address some less pleasant thoughts I had been putting off. Here are some of the basics you should know about these retreats and what impact it had on my life.

What’s it all about?

If you have not heard of these “retreats”, they typically involve spending a week or so at a “center” or “monastery”. This particular retreat was hosted by Dipabhavan on Ko Samui island in Thailand. 6 days long. No cost (donations only). And was hosted by Buddhist monks. Although they welcome people of every religion to participate. During this week you will spend most of your time involved in “meditation” exercises. You will spend some part of the day listening to a monk or other leaders teaching you how to meditate. They also share with you some of the practice and purposes of their religion.  You will have the chance to detox from your normal diet with only 2 vegetarians meals served per day. You can also detox from the digital world as they take away all cell phones and laptops when you arrive.

meditation center steps
Meditation center steps at night
Day 1

We had an orientation the night before which explained what the schedule would be, what the rules were and allowed each of us to meet & greet. There was quite a mix of people from all countries and walks of life. The old “hippie” from the States to young Russians as well as practicing Buddhists from Australia.

Brass Bell
Brass Bell that called us to meditation

We started our morning at 4:30 am and ended our days at 9:00 pm. You may be wondering how do you get appx 70 people up at 4:30 in the morning when everyone’s alarm clocks and phones were taken away? A large and loud brass bell. There was no chance of sleeping through this morning wake up bell. They encouraged us to forget about time and clocks, and just listen for the bell throughout the day. The bell would announce each change of task, meditation, breakfast and dinner. I became acquainted with what my body feels like after sleeping on a wooden bed with a wooden pillow, how to manage only 2 meals per day, how to use a toilet with no toilet paper for 4 days and how to cope with a bored and distracted (monkey mind).

 

Day 2

By day 2 my body felt the effect of sleeping on a wooden bed. My hips and my shoulders hurt the worst. Surprisingly the wooden pillow was fairly comfortable.  It seemed that the real reason they require “silence” during the retreat was to prevent people from complaining. 🙂 As you seek to deny yourself and your ego it’s important to not put your own needs and discomfort below that of the teachings of the Buddha. You are to be mindful/aware of each experience and feeling, but you are not to become “involved” in feelings and thoughts which are not calm, peaceful and content. We were taught how to observe these thoughts and feelings while focusing on long breathing meditation. If we practiced these techniques we would not be distracted by pain or discomfort.”These feelings too, shall pass.”

They had a wooden pillow and straw mat similar to the one shown above at the silent meditation retreat
Day 3

Each day we practiced different meditation techniques while sitting on the floor, standing or walking. Personally, I found the standing meditation to be the most useful for relaxing and clearing my mind. I was able to bypass the discomfort of sitting cross-legged for so long, and also not have the threat of falling asleep.

Sitting meditation (long breathing)
While sitting cross-legged on the floor with my back comfortably straight I learned about long breathing exercises. This was to help my mind and body be calm. It also increased my attention span, and focus. I took long deep breaths while focusing on the feeling of the air entering my nostrils. Then I was instructed to follow the breath down towards my lungs while noticing how my abdomen would naturally expand at the completion of each inhalation. Likewise, I would trace the breath back out of my abdomen area up to my lungs and out my nose. These meditations lasted 1/2 hour each. Being fully aware of each breath was the ONLY focus of this meditation. Click HERE for more info about long breathing.

Standing meditation (long breathing)

Standing meditation also focused on long breathing. (you can read about that above)

Walking meditation (Attention, awareness, and alertness)
I also practiced walking meditation sometimes in a group setting other times alone. I figured at first it would only be taking a little walk alone down a path to clear my head. It wasn’t like this at all. Again the exercise focused on awareness and mindfulness of each step I took. A 5 stage walking meditation was taught. Again, the point was to focus individually on each process of the step. From the raising of the heel at the beginning of each step. To the placement of your foot at the end.
You can read more about different walking meditation methods HERE.

Day 4

The eight teachings of the buddha are as follows.

  • I undertake the training to intend not to take away any breath
  • I undertake the training not to take away what is not given
  • I undertake the training to keep my mind and body free from any sexual activity
  • I undertake the training not to harm others by speech
  • I undertake the training not to harm my consciousness with substances that intoxicate and lead to carelessness
  • I undertake the training not to eat in between afternoon and before dawn
  • I undertake the training not to dance, sing, play or listen to music, watch shows, wear garlands, ornaments and beautify myself with perfumes and cosmetics
  • I undertake the training not to sleep or sit on luxurious beds and seats

For four days I listened how  “we should place our trust in the dhamma” (the teachings of the Buddha), how the goal of the long breathing exercises was not only to calm our mind but to eventually reach a point of “awakening”. My mind would be turned “inside-out” in a way. At this moment I would experience some kind of reward, a “positive feeling” and also the opportunity to be enlightened.  All my effort, dedication and hard work would “pay-off”.

Clarity

I am very glad to have had this amazing experience. Separate from my phone. Separate from the outside world. Consequently, It provided so much quiet time that allowed me to have a proper detox and cleanse from so many distractions I had in my mind and my body. For example, it helped me clear away negative thoughts of past relationships and handle the hostile situations I find myself having to deal with in business without getting stressed about them. There are many wise and helpful teachings of the Buddha. When practiced, these teachings can enhance your life and also the lives of those around you.

Conflict

I decided to end the meditation on the 5th day in the morning. I can only speak for myself. I found meditation practiced according to Buddhism was limited. All of my effort and time spent was inward focused in hope of enlightenment. As wonderful as a clear view of things around me is useful. It is not the same as being an active and helpful participant in the society around me.

Conclusion

Finally, I wondered what my experience would’ve been and what new insights I would’ve gained about myself and the world around me if I had dedicated 5 days to working in a Thai orphanage instead of sitting doing breathing meditation. Maybe my desire to grow and understand would’ve been aided more by reading the beatitudes and meditating on those words and their meaning. Click HERE to read them.  Maybe by focusing on the words I speak, the songs I write and helping others, I can achieve “enlightenment”. And create a positive impact at the same time.

I started my first business at 14 yr old and why that doesn’t matter

I started my first business at 14 yr old. Maybe my age makes it sounds like an impressive accomplishment or just something to say for bragging rights? I can honestly tell you, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is “starting” and defining success.

capability

Thomas Edison once said, “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” Have you ever taken the time to quiz yourself or dream about this statement? The catch 22 is we have no idea what we are capable of until we enter the territory of the unknown. People seem to have no problem being “brave” and discovering the answer to the question “how much alcohol are you capable of drinking?” There seems to be little fear of the consequence of “failing” while learning the answer. When I was a child I watched many successful stock brokers, archaeologists, treasure hunters, and real estate moguls (including the one with small hands) on T.V.  I remember thinking, “I wonder if I could do that?”.

American Dream

I was fortunate enough to grow up inside one positive aspect of American culture often referred to as the “American Dream.” Americans seem to gobble up as many stories as possible about people who have gone from rags to riches. In my earlier years far more inspiring was watching teenagers who by a stroke of luck, or brilliance became successful in tech or trading stocks during the dot-com boom of the 1990’s. I’m not sure if it was my 9-year-old pride, arrogance, ignorance, insecurity or an open mind. But I remember thinking “if these kids can do this, I should be able to as well.” Any why not? Every success story comes from a baby human being, born ignorant and uneducated, right?

Starting

Starting. Often the biggest hurdle to any of my past success was the failure to even start. I phrase it that way on purpose. Failure to start is a failure. Starting something and learning after awhile that you will not be able to continue,
2 scenarios.

1.Failure to start=definate failure
2.Starting something and learning after awhile that you will not be able to continue=potential failure

What one will you choose?

SO WHAT?

I could write feel good headlines like “Quit my day job, became a travel blogger, now my life is better than yours” or “I used to suffer the 9-5 routine but now that I have mastered social media, I only work 1 hr per day from a penthouse in Singapore”.
These kinds of headlines are good and fine, but is everyone really looking to quit a “normal job” and start making a living from a computer? Probably not.  Often there are far more relevant headlines that I wish saw getting the same amount of attention. Our society is quite focused on money being a measurement of success. Until this changes, I guess we will keep focusing on these types of headlines.

defining success.

So how would your defining headline read? “I finally started going out in public with very little makeup on because I’m ok with the way I look” or “I got the courage to speak about what happened to me in my past” or “80% of my choices used to be dictated by what others thought of me, now it’s nearly 0%”
The point is that if there is something in your life you think you should start doing then do it. If it’s starting a business GREAT! Get some good books, read up about what you would like to do and learn from people who have done it or are already doing it. Work for someone (for free, if you must) who is a master in this just to learn the ropes. See what is done well, see what can be done better.

Virtues

If it’s about becoming a more courageous person. Maybe consider what steps you should start taking to free yourself from fear.  As Aristotle taught, one of the best ways to become virtuous is by developing virtuous habits. For example, courage. Each time you are faced with a small choice to be courageous or fearful. (even with a silly choice of trying a new food) choose the courageous. By doing this, in time you will have series of courageous choices that amount to you being defined and growing into a courageous person. Click HERE for a pretty great write up on his teachings.

Questioning

When I started my first business, a small I.T. helpdesk, and service company at 14 years old I can honestly say I didn’t know that it was possible to make a successful business out of it. But I intended to find out. I calmed my childish fears by saying. I have 4 years to figure this out then by the time I graduate I will have to be a serious adult, if things aren’t working out by then I guess I will have to get a “Real” job like everyone else. Although these thoughts seemed to pacify my fears at the time, they didn’t resolve my core fears of taking steps that most others in society didn’t often take or didn’t approve of. These fears would continue to haunt me for years. They would affect the choices I had to make in business, relationships, and life. I had some positive support from my family that I could try to do this if I wanted to. This certainly was a huge help during “difficult” times.

Commented insecurity

Most other people’s comments (extended family and often friends) only increased my insecurities if only temporarily. If I would have a slow week at work, comments like “it’s the middle of the day, why aren’t you working” or “I had a friend who tried to have a service business, but he was so sick of it after 2 years he quit” or even the innocent “I could never do that.” . These comments made it very difficult for me to stay confident in the fact that I COULD do it.

Fear & Doubt hesitation and regret.

A wise old man once told me, “Charlie, there is no room for unwanted house guests in your life. I asked him what he was talking about. “fear and doubt have been lodging with you too long,” He said. “Also their cousins’ hesitation and regret. It’s time you throw them out”. Certainly hearing someone say they saw these “house guests” in my life and defining it this way made me more aware to not allow any space for them anymore in my choices and though patterns.

Learn to define success based on your own desires and goals. Don’t get discouraged by headlines that seem impossible for you in your current situation. Likewise, don’t be discouraged by headlines that don’t reflect outcomes that would enrich your life.

The unsettled settler.

 

The Unsettled Settler. Life outside the lines

The unsettled settler.

“It’s time you settle down, isn’t it?”
“Maybe you should settle for this right now.”
“He/She’ll never settle down.”

These are some common phrases heard around the world. Words possibly spoke in love (or fear/anger) to a son, daughter, niece, nephew, grandchild.
But what does it mean to hear those words, when inside something feels more “unsettled” than permanent?
The unsettled settler.

Some call it escaping, while others call it growing; Running away or stepping forward?… Laziness or fully living?… Maybe it’s quitting? Or just beginning?

The goal isn’t to turn against society, to be obstinate or ornery. Instead, it’s to live a life enriched with experience beyond the ordinary.

To “settle” used to involve taking risks, traveling across an unknown land beyond the edge of “comfort and common”. This was not a negative trait during those early years of civilization. Rather, It was a necessary part of human nature. We still carry this nature with us today.

There are many ways to traverse across the unknown. While travel can inspire, travel itself seldom grows a person. Most importantly, it’s the choice to take interest in things unknown, to open your mind beyond the familiar to have the strength and independence to live not only according to the rule of society and expectation of those around you.

In this blog, I will share some stories of growing up as an “unsettled settler” in a rural post-industrial midwest and my journey since then. My journey started with a strong desire to travel, explore and meet new and interesting people. But after starting a business and allowing it to take over my life and well being, I responsibly quit and spent time abroad. This was my attempt at getting a balanced view on life, my purpose and passions and what I consider “of value” in my life.

I hope to have other “settlers” share some of their own passions and life experiences that will inspire others to push the boundaries they currently have around themselves and give courage that it is NEVER too late to make choices you believe in no matter how “unknown” the path, how challenging the work, or absurd the thought.

Go, explore, learn, dream.

The “unsettled settler”

 

Rear-view Thinking. (staring backward running forwards)

I have a tendency to look in the wrong places for direction. I use my mirrors, but I don’t use my mirrors for a revealing time of self-analysis. For example, glancing at the side mirror of my car to determine if it is safe to make a lane change. Instead, I stare into the rear-view mirror. I recently found myself in a situation where I was surrounded by beautiful scenery, awesome friends, exciting experiences and I was lost in thoughts about situations from my past. I was missing 90% of what joy and happiness I could’ve taken from that moment. I’ll share a few “reflections” on staring backwards while moving forwards.

Past reflections

I am realizing that this “rear-view mirror” mindset only allows me to look at a reflection of my past. A reflection is not an accurate view. They are frequently molded, bent and twisted.  My view of the past is strongly shaped by my emotional state when these past events took place.For example, during times when I was desperate for attention, situations that brought attention (whether healthy or not) were felt as a positive experience. The desire to be noticed is a real and valid emotional need. But my choice to meet this need in ways that were often unhealthy or harmful to myself is overlooked in the “rear-view” mirror.

Missing the current moment.

Sometimes my attention is SO devoted to staring at reflections of the past that I miss what could be happening in the present moment. In an effort to “see a sign” or “learn a lesson” I miss out on healing, rebuilding and useful situations that help me grow and develop.  It becomes so difficult to communicate very simple and deep human expressions of love towards another person if our focus is elsewhere. Or what about the great sensation of feeling a warm pacific breeze blow through your hair as you breathe a deep breath healthy and fed. (even if that means eating a worm or grasshopper in Thailand) There are many cliched statements about living in and enjoying the moment. There is a reason so many statements meant to inspire this choice have been written.

Missing the future.

When I am driving down the road and I take a moment to look in the mirror for a 1/2 second. The person in front of me slams on their brakes or I drive directly through a hole in the road. This potential danger I searched for in the mirror becomes much less important than the immediate one in front of me. I can give myself much needed time to prepare and react to dangers ahead if I am willing to keep my eyes looking forward. It is not only about dangers in front of me, but also positive goals, achievements, and purpose in life.

Potential dangers in “waiting for the future”

There is a threat also of only dreaming about life in the future as well. For example thinking that life will begin only after….. I get a new job. I graduate. My divorce is final or I have a wife, two kids, a dog and a white picket fence. (I hope I can have a dog and wife one day, not sure which one should become part of my life first) Standing still waiting for the future can create an additional “blind-spot.”

Reflecting on the past can be a very helpful and useful part of working through some painful experience. It also helps our understanding of why we feel what we feel today. But focusing too much in the rear-view mirror makes me miss out on the beautiful scenery currently around me. Not to mention potential potholes in the road ahead. Time to see what lies on the horizon, be present and enjoy the moment I am currently living in.

Northern lights in Coldfoot, Alaska

The northern lights are one of the most mesmerizing and unusual natural wonders in the world. People from all over the world flock to far north on 3 different continents. This, just to witness a light show that puts the trans-Siberian orchestra laser show to shame. How unfortunate that the coldest and darkest months are also some of the best months to see the northern lights! Recently I had the opportunity to see the “aurora borealis” northern lights with my father in Alaska.

Isolation

One of the keys to getting the most vivid view of the northern lights is to isolate yourself from the “light pollution” of the world around you. With a little effort and the help of the Nothern Alaska Tour Company we made it 6hr by bus to Coldfoot Camp. This village is certainly named more appropriately than Philadelphia. Its’ winter temperatures are often between -30F and -40F (-34C and -40C). This village has a population of 10 according to the 2010 census. Better hope you get along with your neighbors. 🙂

Primetime viewing

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has a website dedicated to forecasting when the aurora will be most visible. This site (with hourly updates) provides a scale of auroral activity. You can see which cities in Alaska and Canada offer the best visibility for this amazing display of lights.

Our nights hunting for northern lights

Night 1
Shortly after 11:00 pm I was woken up by my alarm. Peak viewing happens between 11:30 pm and 1:30 am in January at Coldfoot Camp in Alaska and unfortunately whoever is in charge of the lights is unwilling to schedule for earlier hours.
My first night out we took a short trip to the village of Wiseman. Wiseman got its name from the gold mining era. When “wise men” realized there was no gold to be found in Coldfoot and went 6 miles upstream to mine there instead of the barren Coldfoot.
We stayed warm in a cabin built by a miner in the 1930s, while our guide kept watching the sky outside.
He came in and announced optimistically that there was a narrow band of the lights starting to show on the horizon. We bundled up with our fur hats and leather gloves, eager to see the lights for the first time.
As we went out into the silent -27F air I was reminded of how many nights previous humans spent in this town, not for the fun of seeing the northern lights. Rather these men were focused on survival. Their main concerns were finding enough gold to buy food and supplies as well as preventing hypothermia. In spite of our different focus, myself and these former pioneers were standing on the same piece of ground able to witness this same natural wonder nearly 100 years apart.
Small view
The lights had begun making a small showing of light green on the horizon. Unfortunately, they did not develop beyond this on our first night out. We stayed out in Wiseman until nearly 2:00 am. Fortunately, they had a very nice homemade steel barrel outdoor furnace seen in the picture below so our time outside was not as painful.
wiseman alaska outdoor furnace
Outdoor barrel furnace at Wiseman Alaska.
Trappers Cabin in Wiseman Alaska
Night 2.
Night 2 didn’t provide much additional viewing. This time we decided to stay in Coldfoot to view. Again I set my alarm for 11:30 pm and looked out my window for some indication of activity. Sure enough, across half of the midnight horizon, there was a light green glow. Although this night the aurora was more active, the sky was clouded and snowing. Disfigured, the lights only managed to eek out a dim and blurry green glow.
Night 3 (last night in Fairbanks)

Night 3 we had returned to Fairbanks (as our arctic circle tour had ended). We decided to ask some locals where a good place to see the Northern lights may be just outside the city. We were recommended to park at“Hot Springs Gas” which is found a few miles up the Chena Hot Springs road. This gas station is surrounded by hay fields and provides a decent (plowed) place to park away from most city lights. The University website showed high aurora activity expected this night. So again we set our alarms for just before midnight. Alarms rang, we got up, put on our layers and drove about 20 minutes outside of town. Once again we were able to see some pulsing light, but the clouds kept us from the full glory of the northern lights.

The raven

I kept hearing about “the raven” from almost every (tribal) native Alaskan. The raven can help you in the wilderness and other times hurt you. One particular quote came from an older native named “Grandpa Joe.” He said, sometimes success isn’t about the raven or his spirit, “It’s just luck. And some people have more luck than others.” I guess this time, I was part of the “others.”

Click here to watch a  30 min video from the 80s about changing times for Alaskan Natives including “Grandpa Joe.”

*The photo of the northern lights on the top of my blog post was not taken by me but was taken at Wiseman camp by another photographer who did manage a clear night with aurora activity.

 

Alyeska Alaska. Some trailing thoughts

Alyeska Alaska. trail thoughts from the Chugach mountains.

You could choose to not climb these hills.
Instead, stay inside during winter. Avoid fighting the cutting cold on your ears and nose.
Likewise, you could stay put inside the comfortable and familiar place of “home”. Never seeing the frost covered trees, the shining crystal forest.
There are avalanches and rock slides. I saw the effects.
Some have died.
Even tall trees that stood hard and wouldn’t bend, let alone crack were cleared away in one terrifying moment. But even these avalanches that demolish everything in their way, make room for new growth.
It’s not until we get out into the mountains and hills, wherever they are, whatever they may be, that we have the chance for new life. Step up and step out.
Click HERE for a link to the Alyeska resort. You don’t need to stay there to enjoy the trails and amazing views from the sky tram.
Anyone have a great story about how avalanche wiped away something in your life or someone close to you? What ways has this allowed change and growth in the days that followed?